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Living with Citalopram: Your Questions Answered

Answers to the Most Commonly Asked Questions Regarding how to Use Citalopram

Citalopram is an antidepressant medication used to treat depression, anxiety, and other conditions. It usually comes in tablets, or in liquid drops you put into a glass of water.
In this article, we’ve gathered the top 11 questions people ask about citalopram and put together a handy list of FAQs about this very common drug.

Read on for the answers to these most frequently asked questions about citalopram.

The content on this page is provided for informational purposes only. If you have any questions or concerns about your treatment, you should talk to your doctor, pharmacist, or healthcare professional. This is particularly important if you are taking multiple medications or have any existing medical conditions.

What is citalopram?

Citalopram is an antidepressant used to treat depression and anxiety.

It is an SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor), which means that it works by increasing the level of serotonin in the brain.

It comes in the form of tablets, or as liquid drops that you put in a glass of water. It is only available on prescription.

Citalopram is the generic name for this drug. It is also sold under the brand name Cipramil in the UK and Celexa in the US.

I feel that my citalopram is not working. How long does citalopram take to work?

Citalopram usually starts working after one or two weeks, but often does not reach its full effect until after four to six weeks.

If you have started taking citalopram and feel that it’s not working, give it a full six weeks to start to work. If you’re still not feeling any better, talk to your doctor. They may suggest increasing your dose or switching to a different antidepressant.

I’m experiencing side effects while taking citalopram. What can I do to reduce them?

Not everyone who takes citalopram will experience side effects. If you are experiencing mild side effects after recently starting on citalopram or increasing your dose, you can try to wait it out – people who experience common side effects usually find that they get better over time as your body adjusts.

Common side effects include:

  • Tiredness
  • Difficulty sleeping (insomnia)
  • Dry mouth
  • Sweating a lot, including night sweats

You can try adjusting the timing of when you take your citalopram to avoid certain side effects.

For example, if citalopram makes you feel tired, you can take citalopram just before bedtime. If citalopram gives you trouble sleeping, you can try taking it first thing in the morning.

It is also common to feel worse for the first few weeks after starting citalopram, before starting to feel better after a few weeks.

However, if at any point you begin to experience thoughts of self-harm or suicide, you must see a doctor immediately.

If these side effects don’t get better over time or if they bother you, speak to your doctor and they may suggest reducing your dosage or switching to a different antidepressant.

Some side effects are very serious. Tell a doctor immediately if you experience any of the following:

  • Thoughts about self-harm or suicide
  • Headache, trouble focusing, memory problems, losing your balance, seizures, or feeling weak – these may be signs of low sodium levels
  • Chest pain or shortness of breath
  • Severe dizziness or fainting
  • Unexpected changes in your weight
  • Changes in your periods, for example, heavy bleeding, or spotting or bleeding between periods
  • Painful erections that last for more than 4 hours (priapism)
  • Abnormal bleeding, such as bloody stool or unexplained bruises

It is also important to be aware of the signs of an allergic reaction. If you experience an allergic reaction to citalopram, you must see a doctor immediately.

Signs of a serious allergic reaction include:

  • Skin rash – for example itchy, red, or swollen skin
  • Wheezing
  • Tightness in the chest or throat
  • Trouble breathing or talking
  • Swollen mouth, face, lips, tongue, or throat

Citalopram is affecting my sex life. How can I deal with sexual side effects?

Citalopram, like several other antidepressants, can cause sexual side effects. A common one is a decreased sex drive, and sometimes difficulty achieving orgasm. Men may also experience erectile dysfunction and find it difficult to develop or maintain an erection.

There are several things you can try to help reduce these side effects.

You can wait and see if these side effects go away on their own – antidepressant side effects often appear when you first start taking a new medication or a higher dose and usually go away after a few weeks.

You may also try taking citalopram after the usual time that you have sex, particularly if you are experiencing lowered libido after taking citalopram. Citalopram is usually at its highest in your body soon after you take it, so by adjusting the timing of when you take your medication, the side effects of citalopram should hopefully occur after you have had sex.

If this doesn’t help, talk to your doctor. They may suggest reducing your dose of citalopram, which can sometimes help to lower side effects. Talk to your doctor if you would like to try this – never change your dose of medication without speaking to a doctor first.

Alternatively, your doctor may suggest switching to a different antidepressant or adding another medication, for example, to help with erectile dysfunction in men.

What should I do if I overdose on citalopram?

Citalopram overdose can be very dangerous. If you think you have overdosed on citalopram, you must see a doctor right away, even if you don’t feel different. Signs of overdose include:

  • Vomiting
  • Shaking
  • Feeling sleepy
  • Heart beating quickly
  • Seizures

Can I drive while taking citalopram?

Citalopram may make you feel tired or affect your concentration, so it is a good idea to avoid driving for a few days after you first start taking citalopram or after recently changing your dose until you’ve seen how citalopram makes you feel. Many people are able to drive while taking citalopram, but it is best to play it safe until you know that citalopram doesn’t impair your driving.

Can I take citalopram during pregnancy or breastfeeding?

This is something that you must discuss with your doctor. Always tell your doctor if you are taking medications and become pregnant.

Generally, it’s best to avoid taking citalopram if you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant. This is because there is a small risk that citalopram may harm the developing fetus.

However, it is also important that you remain well during your pregnancy. Talk to your doctor if you are planning to become pregnant, or have become pregnant while taking citalopram. Your doctor will help you to weigh up the benefits of you taking the medication against the possible risks to the baby, to help you decide whether to continue with citalopram during pregnancy.

Similarly, it is best to be cautious about taking citalopram while breastfeeding. This is because citalopram can pass into breast milk and cause side effects in the baby, but this is relatively rare and very few breastfed babies experience side effects from citalopram. It is also important for you to remain well for yourself and your baby, and this may mean that it’s necessary for you to take citalopram while breastfeeding your baby. Talk to your doctor if you are taking citalopram and would like to breastfeed your baby – they will help you weigh up the relative benefits and risks to yourself and your baby to help you decide whether to continue taking citalopram while breastfeeding.

If you do decide to keep taking citalopram, talk to your doctor immediately if you notice that your baby isn’t feeding as well as usual or seems unusually sleepy.

Can I take painkillers like ibuprofen, paracetamol, or aspirin while on citalopram?

If you need to take a painkiller while on citalopram, avoid aspirin or NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as ibuprofen and naproxen because they may lead to an increased risk of bleeding. However, paracetamol is generally safe to take together with citalopram. Ask a doctor or pharmacist to recommend a painkiller which is safe for you to take.

Can I have alcohol while taking citalopram?

It’s generally safe to drink alcohol while taking citalopram. However, it may make you feel sleepy. Some people also find that taking citalopram reduces their alcohol tolerance. It is a good idea to avoid alcohol for the first few days of taking citalopram until you know how citalopram makes you feel.

Can I take recreational drugs such as cannabis, cocaine, or MDMA while on citalopram?

Citalopram has not been properly tested with recreational drugs, so it’s not really known how they may react with each other, or whether it’s safe to take them together. It’s best to avoid taking recreational drugs while taking citalopram as they may react dangerously with each other.

It is thought that cannabis can make you feel more drowsy or cause a fast heartbeat when taken together with citalopram.

It is particularly dangerous to take cocaine, ecstasy, or amphetamines while on citalopram, as they may interact dangerously and cause a serious condition called serotonin syndrome, which has symptoms such as confusion, hallucinations, seizures, fever, blurred vision, and vomiting. If you experience these symptoms, you must see a doctor immediately.

If you think you may take recreational drugs while on citalopram, talk to your doctor for advice on how to do this as safely as possible.

How can I stop taking citalopram? Will I experience withdrawal symptoms?

If you would like to stop taking citalopram, talk to your doctor first. Don’t stop taking citalopram abruptly, as you may experience withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, nausea, irritability, dizziness, and vomiting.

If your doctor agrees that it is a good idea for you to stop taking citalopram, they will work together with you to help you wean off citalopram safely, by gradually reducing your dose of citalopram over time before stopping it completely. This will help reduce or avoid withdrawal symptoms occurring.

The content on this page is provided for informational purposes only. If you have any questions or concerns about your treatment, you should talk to your doctor, pharmacist, or healthcare professional. This is particularly important if you are taking multiple medications or have any existing medical conditions.